Moving Mind, Body, and Soul with Dr. Arghavan Salles
The Fabled blog brings together diverse women in medicine to inspire uplifting conversations about life as a medical practitioner. We want to create an empowered community through open discussions about traditionally off-limits topics such as self-care and non-linear career paths. We hope that by participating in these conversations, our readers will go on to live more fulfilling lives. Our new interview series shines a light on the power of personal style, mindfulness, and more.
We’re kicking off our Women in Medicine Q&A series with Dr. Arghavan Salles, a bariatric surgeon and Scholar in Residence within the Educational Programs and Services at Stanford University School of Medicine. Read on to find out how Dr. Salles’ Iranian heritage influences her work, how she builds confidence through her yoga practice, and why she believes “power dressing” is so important.
What inspired you to become a doctor? We want to hear it all: The good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly.
I wish I had a more exciting story, but this was a practical decision for me. I majored in biomedical engineering, but I wasn't sure I would want to be an engineer. I decided to go into medicine because I enjoyed working with and helping people. My major included all the prerequisites. Like I said, not a very sexy story!
Why do you think it's important for women in medicine to speak out about gender bias?
I’ve learned a lot about this from a social science perspective. People don’t like it when women express concerns about their own circumstances. They’re happy for us to advocate for others, but they don't like us to advocate for ourselves. I think we have to change that preference, and we do it by being vocal. The more we do the things people don't expect us to do, the more we can change those expectations. Women walk a narrow path in medicine. We have to be nice without being a pushover, be a leader without being too assertive, be a good team member but also take credit for our achievements, and do it all with a smile.
But I think there's tension here. On the one hand, if we do what people expect of us—being quiet, not ruffling feathers—we can usually keep our jobs and maybe even advance over time. But we will do so slowly. On the other hand, if we speak up and try to right every injustice, try to advocate for ourselves and our patients, we may be seen as intolerable even as we are pushing for the change that would recognize us as leaders. So, I think we have to do a bit of both, as distasteful as it is for me to say that.
How does your Iranian heritage influence your work?
I’m an Iranian immigrant and a woman before I’m a physician. My mom and I left our entire family when I was five years old. I had no siblings, and my extended family was in Iran and scattered around the world. We also had very little money when I was young. My perspective is often different from those around me. Being an immigrant also helps me empathize with immigrant patients. It's hard to overestimate how hard it is to live in a new culture, in a new country, often on a new continent, speaking a new language.
When I see a patient, or work on a research project, or share on social media, it’s always as an immigrant from a country with an oppressive regime. It’s as a person who has limited access to her extended family because of that oppressive regime. It’s as a person who has cultivated deep friendships to rebuild a sense of family away from those to whom I am connected by blood. It’s as a person who has felt that isolation and loneliness my entire life. This influences every single thing I do.
Have you ever negotiated something at work, and what did you learn from the experience?
When starting a job, I always try to negotiate my salary. I also ask for other things I need. That might mean money to support research, administrative support, or equipment. That said, what you can negotiate for depends on how strong your position is. It's important to have a good relationship with the person with whom you’re negotiating. Without that, it is nearly impossible. Even if there is trust in that relationship, the question is not “What is best for me?” Rather, the question is: “What will make this partnership most successful?”
What do you love to do outside of your medical work?
Anything that makes me move makes me feel better. The connection with nature on a hike resets a lot of the angst and stress of daily life. I have a small injury now that I’m healing, but prior to that I would spend a lot of time on yoga and handstands. For me, the act of that physical practice is meditative, with the added benefit of getting my body to do fun things. Building that practice makes me feel empowered. I also absolutely love baking. It appeals to the part of me that is super detail-oriented and loves the gratification when that pays off.
What do you wear to work, and how does it make you feel?
These days, like most people, I wear a lot of athleisure. Sometimes, as required, I may wear a blouse and a cardigan so I appear business-like on my top half. When I’m working in the hospital, I wear scrubs. The Fabled scrubs I have are beautiful and very soft on the skin. When I used to see patients in the clinic, I would often wear a dress and heels. I think there's power in what we wear, both in what it signals to others and in what it signals to ourselves. But you don't have to wear something expensive or fancy to feel good. I think different days and moods require different outfits.
What does the idea of personal style mean to you, and how do you think your sense of style empowers you?
I think my personal style did a lot more for me before the pandemic. I traveled a lot to give talks, and I always made sure I had an outfit that made me feel good. Now, all my talks are on Zoom. I actually bought a pair of fancy heels a couple of months ago. I guess I was looking forward to a time when I might need to wear them. I do think it's important to feel good about how you look, whatever your style is.
Women physicians are ___.
Bold, brave, and brilliant.
What’s your go-to move for turning around a bad day?
Talking to a friend
What’s your go-to snack?
What are three things that you can’t live without?
Friends, anything Nutella, and yoga.
Photographs courtesy of Dr. Salles.
We’d love talking with women in medicine who manifest self-care and self-expression. If you know someone who can teach us a thing or two, email us their details!